PETALING JAYA: Malaysia should get off to a flying start in their SEA Games men’s football campaign against Timor Leste in a Group A match at the Main Stadium of the National Sports Complex in Vientiane today.
The national Under-23 squad under coach K. Rajagopal should have little difficulty against the relatively newcomers of the SEA Games family, who only made their debut at the 2003 edition in Vietnam.
“On paper, I know everyone expects us to roll over Timor Leste but I have warned my boys not to under estimate any of the opponents, including Timor Leste and Cambodia,” said Rajagopal.
He said that everyone should look at the history of SEA Games football before passing judgment on the team’s expectations in Laos.
“We have not won the gold medal for 20 long years. The previous teams were beaten by the likes of the Philippines and even Laos. This speaks volume of the strength of the teams,” said Rajagopal.
“Every match is important because any slip-up in the group matches will be costly in our bid to qualify for the semi-finals.”
In the 1991 Manila Games, defending champions Malaysia were eliminated from the semi-finals after they lost 0-1 to the Philippines. It was the same at the 1997 Jakarta Games when they crash to a surprise 0-1 defeat by Laos.
Rajagopal admitted that he had no knowledge of the Timor Leste team but gave an assurance that his team will ensure that they claim full points.
Mohd Zaquan Adha Abdul Razak and Norsharul Idlan Talaha are expected to spearhead the attack while Amar Rohidan, Amirulhadi Zainal, S. Kunalan and Baddrol Bakhtiar would provide the drive from midfield.
Skipper Mohd Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak and Nasriq Baharom should start as centrebacks flanked by Mat Sabree Abu and Mohd Asraruddin Putra Omar with Mohd Farizal Marlias in goal.
Meanwhile, heavyweights Thailand and Vietnam will cross swords in the other Group A match today.
The Thais under the charge of Englishman Steve Darby, who had a stint with Perak, will be going for their record ninth title.The Vietnamese side handled by Portuguese Henrique Calisto are also strong bets for the gold medal. STAR